A Levels hits you and immediately, the phrase ‘university applications’ engulfs you completely and you begin to imagine yourself in various academic institutions, pursuing different careers. In Pakistan, you’re lucky if you’re thinking along the lines of Doctor and Engineer, which are great terms to throw at your uncles and aunties who persist in their monthly probing of, “aur beta, aagay kya iraday hein?” but for something unconventional, you’d be lucky if your parents let you do it, because the khandaan and everyone else will never be on board.
I, for example, decided to major in English Literature from LUMS, and now in my third year, I am still often hit with subtle jibes as to how I basically have no career and that teaching (which is a HIGHLY underrated profession) is perhaps my only option. Some pseudo liberal uncles would brush the idea aside saying, “at least apnay shauk ki cheez kar rahi hai”.
This one individual is really inspiring my ideas about what I want to do and to what extent should I give a crap about what phuppo has to say about me( jk I love my phupho..not)
After finishing her A Levels from a well-renowned school in Lahore, Salwa Gardezi decided to apply to an institution which wasn’t LUMS or LSE, or BNU, or NCA, or PU, or anything along these conventional lines. Here’s a girl who’s smart, ambitious, and doesn’t seem to let anything pull her back. Salwa applied to one of Lahore’s best culinary schools, pursuing a passion that had driven her since the age of 10.
Let me just stop you for second and tell you it’s quite the opposite of what you’re thinking. She’s not your average ‘foodie’.
“If I was forced to wake up at midnight and had to whip up a three-course meal, I’d gladly do it, that’s how much I’ve always loved cooking”, she tells me with an air of pride.
As expected, when she began telling friends and family, while the close ones encouraged with sheer happiness, being aware of her passion, others simply claimed that she was “finding shortcuts”, or that she would “make a great housewife”.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not merely a cooking class which you can just attend in the summer with your pals and learn a biryani or two so your mother-in-law pats you on the back.
“Standing in a continuous 6-hour class, mastering the art of knives, cuts, bread making, pastas from scratch, this isn’t the kind of work you’d do if you simply have a flair for cooking once in a while, this takes determination, and you really have to love your work to withstand being in a kitchen for this long. We have chefs who come from all over the world and because of that, we’ve learnt cuisines from everywhere- Peruvian, Thai, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, you name it.”
Salwa says, “we feel like a family and the environment is fantastic; if I was to show these kitchens to someone, they won’t believe it’s Pakistan”.
She tells me that this institution, which goes by the name of SCAFA (School of Culinary and Finishing Arts), holds three-month courses and takes not more than 8 students per batch, most of which are boys, surprisingly.
Each Friday they have a test on whatever they learnt the entire week and at the very end, is a MasterChef like cooking test.
“Its’ like the Mystery Box. I didn’t know what they gave me in the box, and I had to make a bread, one cold starter, one hot starter, one main course with side dish and one dessert, all within three hours. That was insanely hard”, she goes on to say that here it’s a real patience tester at times when you tell people of what you do at the institution.
Salwa’s aim is to attain a Michelin Star for her restaurant, in the future
Michelin Stars are awarded by the internationally respected Michelin Guide to very few exceptional restaurants from all over the world. With the kind of hard work Salwa puts in and the high quality of culinary skills she’s acquiring, we’re pretty hopeful she will be able to achieve that feat in no time.
“I mean I’m learning things that most people, even myself at times, can’t even pronounce, like the five mother sauces which are integral to French cuisine and are commonly used all over the world. When you’re asked about this, there’s usually no point of explaining it repeatedly to people, who in reality don’t even have any interest in this”.
“I want to introduce fine dining and French cuisine to Pakistan, and serve organic French tastes on a plate- what I call ‘real food’”. She finds herself getting real nitpicky with what she eats at a restaurant, not out of any kind of arrogance, but simply because she knows how things are done and it bothers her when they aren’t. You normally don’t even know the difference between a real medium-rare or medium-well steak, as an ordinary Pakistani foodie. But for Salwa, who actually is aware, these things are of utmost concern.
Judging from the gorgeous creations she shows us and the finesse with which each appears to be executed, one can see that this is serious business. One can hope that more boys and girls follow in similar footsteps and work with the same degree of passion.
We leave you with some of Salwa’s gorgeous creations, here:
Images courtesy: Salwa Gardezi